North Korea created a new biotech information center within the State Academy of Sciences right after the end of the Eighth Party Congress, Daily NK has learned. 

According to a Daily NK source in North Korea on Monday, the country’s authorities created a center to share research information on the local and overseas biotech industries, including the development of microorganisms and viruses, in the science quarter of Pyongyang’s Unjong District on Jan. 22. The establishment of the center was the first “ratified task” handed down after the Eighth Party Congress.

The source said the authorities announced the creation of the “Life Science Information and Technology Service Center,” stressing that the biotech industry is a leading industry of the 21st century and “one of the highgrounds scientists and researchers must occupy during the period of the new five-year plan, along with the IT industry.”

The source told Daily NK that given the many targets set by the five-year plan in the biotech sector, the authorities created the service center within the State Academy of Sciences “so that academics and related researchers can discuss and share research results in the biotech field.”

state academy of sciences
Kim Jong Un poses with staff of the State Academy of Sciences in 2014. / Image: Rodong Shinmun

The State Academy of Sciences already had several bioengineering-related institutes, labs, testing centers and factories, including the Bioengineering Research Center, but the party reportedly noted the significance of the new center by stressing how sharing research information to continuously develop pharmaceutical products in the “biotech era” is “closely connected to improving the lives of the people and promoting health.”

According to the source, North Korea has in fact stressed that the nation must rebuild a “North Korean-style” biotech production system in a “modern way” by referencing foreign biotech accomplishments as the biotech industry enables the development of genetically modified agricultural seeds and “modern drug treatment technology.”

By “modern drug treatment technology,” North Korea is referring to stem cell technology to regenerate damaged organs and genome editing to treat genetic diseases. Within the country’s medical community, these are called “the holy grails of treatment technologies.”

North Korea finished recruiting and organizing staff for the new center as well as readying its office late last month. The authorities reportedly plan to begin full-scale operations at the center by early February after the center’s division of labor plans are complete. 

According to the source, the new center has equal status to ordinary research centers within the State Academy of Sciences and a staff of about 110 people.

However, with the creation of the new center, scientists and researchers in the bioengineering field are vexed by the pressure of having to produce results.

“The party committee has been choosing the goals and research plans bioengineering scientists and researchers must achieve at every major industrial base in the people’s economy, allotting them by individual and research lab,” said the source. “Scientists and researchers preparing their own research fear that if they don’t prioritize national research tasks, they could get branded as counterrevolutionary elements.”

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